The Legion of Boom

American Legion Post 416

American Legion Post 416

America is a land of phoenix-like resurgences, tales where the underdogs overcome the seemingly impossible to rise from their ashes and fly to success. The rebirth of Encinitas’s American Legion Post 416 is one such tale.

When Encinitas was a mere shell of a town in 1930, the American Legion—the largest veteran organization in the world—threaded their roots into the dusty soil, becoming the second still-existing business to call the city home. “We’re a part of the fabric of Encinitas,” says Post Commander Steve Lewandowski, a third-generation legionnaire. For nearly 90 years the legion was an integral part of the Encinitas community with thousands of members over the years, but two years ago the post was on the verge of collapse—literally and figuratively. Membership and money were negligible, and the leaders of the organization were content to see it fade away. Miraculously, new leadership stepped in and enacted a remarkable revitalization.

“There were a lot of really high-quality, high-caliber, motivated individuals who were waiting in the wings,” says Lewandowski. “We got rid of the negativity and the hopelessness. We replaced [it] with people who were optimistic and willing to work, and a remarkable transformation occurred. It happened so vigorously that we achieved some incredible honors.”

Among those honors are a bevy of awards and accolades, including the Boots on the Ground Award for recruiting the most members to an American Legion post (they recruited over 350 members in the last two years alone) and the National Commander’s Award of Post Excellence for California. The accomplishment for which Lewandowski is most proud, however, isn’t immortalized in bronze like the Boots on the Ground Award, but cast in hearts: over the last year, members of the post have documented over 17,000 hours in community service for veterans and their families across San Diego County. 

In a city like San Diego, where the community is inherently threaded with military culture, the success of American Legion is integral to the success of this city. “The American Legion is a very special place because it’s a refuge,” Lewandowski explains. “Keep in mind, less than 1% of our country is serving in uniform. When our country needs defending, it’s the 99% of the rest of us who are depending on that 1%—which is all volunteer.”

Post 416 is a home for the San Diegans who keep our country safe. The problem is, the literal collapse of the Legion’s buildings is still an unfortunate reality. The Legion is currently divided into three structures, two of which are physically falling apart. Extensive termite damage led to the collapsing of a wall, and the roof spots as many holes and leaks as a colander. With the new Save Our Legion campaign, Lewandowski and his fellow members plan to inspirit the physical Legion as they have inspired their membership. “We’re looking forward to involving the community in building the new building,” says Lewandowski. 

That’s not the only big development on the horizon for Post 416. This year, Veterans Day coincides with Opening Day of the fall season at Del Mar, and the Legion will work with dozens of other veteran causes to raise money for local vets. And, on December 10th, the National Commander will visit the post during the Army-Navy game.

Though Lewandowski and the members of American Legion Post 416 have made huge strides, their ascent from the ashes isn’t over. Their dreams are big, but their capabilities are even bigger. 

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